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Africa: A Trip of a Lifetime
Tuesday, March 1, 2016
By Barbara Farrell, Cruising Enthusiast

Dear Friends, I have created a slideshow of the Africa trip described in this blog. Please download it from Africa 2012 Slideshow. It is a large file, approximately 7 MB, but it is well worth the time. If you don't have Microsoft Office, you can download and install the PowerPoint Viewer from here (or go to Microsoft's Web site and search for PowerPoint Viewer) to enjoy the presentation. I trust you will enjoy it. Simply open the file after you've downloaded it and it will play.

TElephantravelling to the four corners of the earth, gathering knowledge to make your trips special, that’s what I’ve been doing all these years.  Site inspections, middle seat in Coach, red eyes, suspect hotels—I’ve done them all!   There have been many trips to Africa, I even lived in Tunisia for a while, and have done five safaris over the years.  The most spectacular is my 2012 adventure with Abercrombie & Kent to Zambia & Botswana which I’m excited to tell you all about in this letter!

On the evening of March 8th, I boarded the new non-stop British Airways flight to London (10 hours) followed by a non-stop flight from Heathrow to Johannesburg (11 hours).When I arrived to Johannesburg I was taken to my hotel  where I had time to catch up on sleep before I was joined by my girlfriend Kathryn, from Sydney, Australia. We had tons of fun with housekeeping staff getting the king-sized bed made up as twin beds before we joined the rest of our A&K tour group for introductions and dinner.

As I was able to take two suitcases to South Africa, friends supplied me with children’s t-shirts and sporting uniforms, while I purchased 40 boxes of crayons as well as other school supplies for a school near our hotel.

Then it was onward and upward to our safari beginning with an hour flight to Livingstone, Zambia—‘Dr Livingstone I presume’.   We were transferred to our lodge, Sanctuary Sussi & Chuma, named after Livingstone’s two guides. This lodge is located within The Mosi-Oa-Tunya National Park, along the Zambezi River.

What a delight, our first experience of the welcome you receive at Sanctuary lodges. The entire staff gathered at Reception singing and dancing in inspiring harmony and rhythm, to welcome their honoured guests to Sussi  & Chuma.  This was the first time, but not the last, that we were charmed by the open and honest warmth of the local people.

The lodge comprises twelve luxurious tree houses on stilts amid riverine trees.  Linking the rooms, and facilities, including an inviting pool overlooking the Zambezi River, is a raised wooden walkway on which the resident Vervet monkeys allow people to walk.  I was armed with a 12”aerosol horn for scaring elephants—thank goodness I wasn’t challenged to use it.

Our first excursion was to Victoria Falls where we were greeted by baboons and breathtaking rainbows.  Known locally as Mosi-Oa-Tunya (smoke that thunders) this is one of the most striking sights in Africa.  The mile-wide Zambezi River plunges 30 stories thrusting water at a volume of 1-2 million gallons per second into the chasm.   Attempts to stay dry were in vain, we were saturated by the mist and amazed to see local men at the top of the falls perched on slimy rocks fishing - an awe inspiring experience.

Another experience that was repeated throughout our tour was ‘Sundowners’; a time to relax and commune with nature- often on the waterways to watch the magnificent sun disappear on the horizon. Sundowners at Sussi & Chuma was on the mighty Zambezi River. The sounds of birds, hippos and elephants added the perfect soundtrack to the beautiful multi-coloured African sunset.

Airborne again, our 14 passenger Cessna took us from Livingstone to Kasane, Botswana.  Oh, the easy check in—no security, no TSA, no x-ray machines—like a blast from the past, we just walked out of the terminal, across the runway and boarded our flight.  Paul, our wonderful pilot, flew us twice over Victoria Falls so everyone had the chance to view and take photos from above the Falls.  What a happy ending to a great stay in Zambia!

Our first delight in Botswana was Sanctuary Chobe Chilwero - the melodic welcome and the sweeping vista of the Chobe River and valley as far as the Kaprivi Strip of Namibia.  Eagles soaring above and elephants swimming in the river – wow!  This was just the beginning as we were led to our room, one of 15 spacious cottages with private walled garden, grand bathroom, al-fresco showers, a great spa and swimming pool—complete utopia.

After a sumptuous lunch we piled into a safari Land Rover for our afternoon game drive. We expected elephants, and there were herds of them.  They were walking, munching, suckling babies, crunching trees, all shapes and sizes- what a thrill!  We headed to the river bank where the action was - one male lion loping along six feet behind us, the pride, ten feet ahead of us, carrying on, completely oblivious to our presence.  And then an amazing thing—something spooked two groups of elephants who were grazing on a strip of grassy land in the middle of the river.  They ran to the river - imagine the sight of 15-20 elephants heading into the river to swim to the other side, no stops for playing on this trip, they were swimming for their lives.

Of course, an evening on the river for Sundowners again,  a most spectacular sunset with soaring birds in relief against the red sky, and us surrounded by hippos and crocodiles...who could ask for anything more.

We could have stayed forever, but the Moremi Game Reserve and Sanctuary Chiefs Camp were awaiting us in the Okavango Delta.  Another short flight, with me as co-pilot, we arrived at Chief’s camp which is reminiscent of the cover of Architectural Digest.  The Okavango has not completely dried out for about three years so there is water everywhere.  Our land rovers however, were equipped with an exhaust system so they could drive through the waters. The land rovers would get an inch or so of water on the floors but the exhaust system was engineered to be above water.  We went through many large rivers as well as lakes and to my amazement stayed completely dry the whole time! Off we drove in our open rovers, each holding 8 passengers (with A&K it is 6 passengers + driver—other companies can have as many as 25 guests). 

‘There are predators such as leopards at Chiefs Camp’, we heard along our journey.  ‘We saw a family of three with a fresh kill’ said a traveller with images to prove it.  We found the young male first, alone and oh so beautiful.  We lingered but finally moved on in search of the rest of the family.  Our two vehicles went in different directions and we sighted the young female, the same age but much smaller than her brother.  The warthog telegraph went into action and advised the other jeep.  Oh well, we didn’t find the mother, but Sundowners beckoned so we abandoned our search and found a scenic lake to enjoy the sunset.

Animals rule in this world and we had hardly taken a sip of our G&T’s when the warthog telegraph spluttered with news that our friends had found the female!  A quick regather and we were on our way.  Bumping and bouncing through the bush, along tracks and across quite a distance.  We arrived to see a fabulous female leopard atop a burnt tree stump scouring the grassland for prey.  It was dusk and it was amazing, she walked down the tree right beside us and off through the grass.  We followed her quite a way until we could only see the top of her tail above the grass.  We headed home overwhelmed yet again, but with a massage on the tent deck under the African stars to look forward to. 

We were back to the strip of sand known as the ‘air strip’ to our next destination, Sanctuary Stanley’s Camp, at the Southern tip of Chief’s Island.  These are more classic safari tents, with ensuite and a hammock on the veranda.  They were set alongside what appears to be lush grassland until an elephant walks into view before submerging for a dip.  We had the opportunity to venture out in mokoro canoes and get up close with the waterborne wildlife—nothing ferocious but plants and some amazing frogs.

Our night drive took us to a hyena den.  While the mother hunted, her young remained socializing. With special night lights, we could see them at close quarters behaving as if we weren’t there.  One of the vehicles caught a glimpse of a black rhino as it darted into the bushland.  This is also the night we came across a porcupine—what a funny fellow he was with bristles extended to make him look larger—it worked.

What a trip so far, but the best was yet to come.  We joined our guides the in safari jeeps and headed out to the Elephant Experience.  We met up with Doug, his wife Sandi, and the three elephants that they adopted about 25 years ago. The elephants names were Jabu, Marula, and Thembi. They had been mistreated before coming into the care of Doug and Sandi who have introduced them back to the wild in a semi controlled way. We spent a whole morning with them, walking through the bush and learning many interesting facts! Every day Doug guides them to find food.  Once they find a nice, big tree they use their large tongues to strip leaves from the branches, then feast on those branches.  We had the privilege to join them for lunch on one of these outings for food and exercise. There are about 100,000 muscles in each trunk, each elephant has four eyes and they are the gentlest animals I have ever been with! It was one of the highlights of my life! You might have guessed this by the enclosed photo!

That afternoon we visited Sanctuary Baines’ Camp.  An exclusive camp, with five luxurious- elevated suites on the river front amidst trees and papyrus beds. It is accessible by boat and especially romantic—you can have your four- poster bed moved onto the balcony and sleep under the starry, African skies. We sailed in small boats along the Boro River for our sundowners with FABULOUS sunsets. So romantic! 
This was the end of our A&K safari and our fellow travellers flew out to Johannesburg and home.  But we had another adventure ahead of us and, with me as co-pilot, Kathryn and I flew back to Kasane and Chobe Chilwero Lodge for the night.

The sun was barely above the horizon as we headed to downtown Kasane and across to the other side of the Chobe River to Namibia for two nights on the Zambezi Queen.  Entering Namibia proved an adventure with an elusive customs guy who apparently had more regard for a hearty-ale than he did for stamping tourist passports.  This modern riverboat has 14 balcony staterooms, each large and comfortable, and employs 54 Namibians.  Our treat the next day was a visit, guided by Stanley, to a small local village. Such a simple lifestyle and strong community! It was a treat! We chatted and smiled with the small children and their mothers who set up some local artefacts hoping for a boost to their income.  We did not have acceptable currency, so no sales were made and they happily waved us on our way. For dinner, we were treated to a special onshore Boma (African BBQ).  Lit by flame torches and with the scattered lights of Kasane on the Botswana side of the river, it was a special evening.

Most of our fellow guests on Zambezi Queen were South Africans for whom it is a great weekend getaway.  From experience, many of these guests had a lack of regard for the timely departure, or departure at all, of scheduled flights with Botswana Airlines.  There was, for these folk of little faith, the alternative to arise with the Lilac Crested Rola’s and take a three hour drive, over rough and rutted roads to join another airline in Zambia.

Two couples with whom we had chatted over the weekend, decided to split and see who would get home first.  And so, several hours after the ‘taking the low road’ group had left.  We arose, breakfasted and with the sensible couple who decided to fly-we were transferred to Kasane airport.

With a confident wave of farewell to our driver, we defiantly entered the tiny and distinctly-lacking-in-creature-comforts terminal at Kasane.  With the arrogant swagger of the self-righteous, we approached the check in counter to be greeted by a notice advising that the flight was one hour delayed.  Quick calculations as to driving time vs flying time brought us to the conclusion that we would still arrive in J’burg first.  Well, as with so many of these travelling stories, it was not meant to be.

And so we sat, with little else to do but gaze at the comings and goings of the car park.   I spotted a vehicle from Chobe Chilwero Lodge and said to Kathryn, “who is the driver of that vehicle?!” A minute later she was on the radio with the lodge and before we knew it, all four of us were on our way to Chobe Chilwero for lunch! It was wonderful to see the great staff and beautiful lodge again, and we were welcomed warmly.

Kathryn, Fiona & Howard (our new friends from Johannesburg) and I finally boarded a twin engine airplane for Johannesburg—a 2 hour flight. As we disembarked the plane, some 5-6 hours after we originally arrived at Kasane and feeling grimy, tired, and somewhat defeated, we were greeted by two gentlemen in uniform holding a sign that said “FARRELL”.  Were we dreaming, or was this the service one could come to expect from The Saxon Hotel.  With our new best friends in tow, we were whisked away to customs, immigration, and baggage claim to our very flash car and the short journey to The Saxon Boutique Hotel. We parted company with Fiona and Howard at this point and they made their way home, to arrive several hours later than their friends, but having had a serendipitous day. 

The Saxon Hotel was originally designed in 1990 as a private residence—this is quite a hotel!  Nelsen Mandela edited his bestselling autobiography here. There are 4 pools, 24 suites, and 3 villas! What a gorgeous spot to end our fantastic A&K adventure safari!

Time at the Saxon was short, but we were nevertheless killed with kindness. It took three front office staff, all in morning suits and what appeared to be matching spectacles just to get through our in-suite check-in. what a hoot! Everything was computer controlled-lights, air, TV, radio, and various other things that we did not use as we could not operate the system. Kathryn had put down a pillow over one light as she couldn’t figure out how to turn it off and then when the room should have been in darkness the glow of so many stand-by lights throughout the room made me feel like I was back in Botswana camped out and surrounded by animals keeping a watch over me or checking me out for a possible meal later in the evening.

I love Botswana and I’m sure I’ll return. I hope you’ll come along with me! You don’t do this trip everyday—I would love to make it your best trip EVER!

So, this Holiday letter finally comes to an end. This is only the tip of the safari, so many stories to tell next time we meet. Please, contact me for a memorable safari, cruise for fulfilling your dreams!

You can find my new hobby of scrapbooking beginning with this trip here! Check it out! Photos are from my camera as well as others that were on the trip with me: Africa 2012 Slideshow.

I wish you a lovely Holiday Season and a very healthy, hopefully travel-filled 2013!

All the best,

Barbara Farrell